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PORT 101 : Notes on Port                          Back to Booze Reviews

Port wine (also known as Vinho do Porto, Oporto, Porto, and often simply Port) is a Portuguese fortified wine from the Douro Valley in northern Portugal. It is typically a sweet red wine, but also comes in dry, semi-dry and white varieties.

Port is typically served as an after dinner drink. A visit to the liquor store at 39th & Cambie shows you the wide variety of Ports available….quite daunting to the novice: ruby, crusted, late bottled vintage, young tawny, aged tawny, Colheita, vintage character, vintage, single qunita, and white port.

To help simplify –

  • There are basically two styles of Port: wood-aged or bottle-aged. 
  • There are five grape varieties.
  • The grapes are foot-trodden, and the resulting juice is fermented until half the sugar has been converted to alcohol.
  • Further fermentation is stopped by the addition of a neutral grape spirit to kill the yeast.
  • The result is a wine that contains about 10% residual sugar and is 20% alcohol.

It is after this stage that the producer will follow his/her own style – how long they want it aged in barrels, or tanks for example. Barrel aged are the Tawny Ports, and the Colheita.  Bottled aged are the Ruby, Crusted, Vintage and LBV.

Ruby Port

  • Simplest and least costly
  • 2 to 3 years in barrels or stainless steel tanks before bottling.
  • Fruity

Crusted Port

  • Blend of two or three harvests
  • Matured in a cask 12-18 mos
  • Bottled unfiltered and aged
  • When poured, will leave sediment on the class, hence the name

Young Tawny Port

  • Like a Ruby Port, but aged in wood barrels up to 3 years
  • Aging allows wine to oxidize and loose some of its colour
  • The exposure to wood imparts "nutty" flavours to the wine, which is blended to match the house style.

Aged Tawny Port

  • Age is on the label, the older the more costly
  • Blends of different harvests and the reported age is the average of the wines in the blend (unlike scotch, which must use the youngest age)

Colheita Port

  • Pronounced col-YATE-ah, meaning harvest
  • A tawny Port from a single harvest
  • Aged minimum of seven years, usually longer
  • Date of vintage given on the label

Vintage Character Port

  • A Ruby Port aged for 4-5 years
  • Not from a single vintage

Late Bottled Vintage Port (LBV)

  • Single harvest, aged 4-6 years before bottling
  • Usually filtered, so no further aging in bottle
  • Will theoretically keep longer than a vintage when opened (when filtered).

Vintage Port

  • Most expensive
  • Only made in the best grape-producing years
  • The “Best” are selected after 2 years in a barrel, and are aged for long periods in the bottle
  • Declaration of “Vintage” is made only 3 or 4 times in 10 years. 
  • Significant sediment in the bottle

Storing & Serving

According to Wikipedia, Port, like other wine, should be stored in a cool but not cold, dark location (as light can damage the port), with a steady temperature (such as a cellar), lying the bottle on its side if the bottle has a cork, or standing up if stoppered. With the exception of white port, which can be served chilled, port should be served at between 15 to 20 degrees Celsius.

Once opened, port wines must be consumed within a short period of time. Those with stoppers can be kept for a couple of months in a dark place, but if it has a cork it must be consumed sooner. Typically, the older the vintage, the quicker it must be consumed.

Aged Tawny Ports will last for weeks after opening, as much of the oxidation has already occurred in the barrels.

Once a vintage Port has been opened, it is recommended to consume within 3-4 days (Wikipedia) or two weeks (BCLDB).

Sources: Wikipedia, BCLDB